Happy ever the optimist
No matter how many relationships have ended in failure, or life challenges she’s faced, Sophie Kipner refuses to feel pessimistic. Time we all followed suit?
HELLO, MY NAME IS SOPHIE and I’m an optimist. Friends worry for me. They talk of an intervention – and would force me to attend an Optimists Anonymous meeting if it did indeed exist – because no matter how much rejection I get, no matter how many idiots I date, no matter how old I feel, I still believe love is just around the corner. So, the question is… does that mean I’m crazy?
I’ll admit it: I’m optimistic because of the high. I get excited about the idea that things are going to get better. I found myself air-pumping while stuck in traffic the other day when a song came on the radio that reminded me of guy I used to date, because – instead of being pissed off I was late – I was thinking how grateful I was to have not been knocked by some bad decision that would have taken me down another road. I was in gridlock, but I was free! Optimism is a choice. It’s difficult and impractical to be positive all the time (of course I have moments when I worry and stress), but how I choose to see things is actually all I can really control, and I’ve noticed that thinking positively does lead to my happiness. It means that the chance of an even better outcome than I could imagine exists.
You see, I grew up in a house of optimism. It was California in the ’80s and sadness didn’t have a seat at our table (which has its own problems). My dad, the king of positivity, wouldn’t even let me think negatively. The thing I would get in most trouble for wasn’t staying out late or not doing my homework, it was for playing the victim. He had no time for that, so he’d reframe everything.
Instead of getting consolation when my first relationship went pear-shaped, he put his hand out for a high five. ‘That’s great!’ he screamed, joyously, pointing out that this was a good thing. To him, this meant I was lucky enough to feel, that I had earned real emotion. I was alive!
Sometimes, it would drive me mad. I wanted to be sad and miserable just to rebel, like when I had operations on my reproductive system in my early twenties and he told me he knew I’d be OK, even after the doctors warned of potential complications. I wanted him to admit it was a terrible thing, that I deserved his sympathy, this sadness. I interpreted his assuredness, his ‘all will be OK’ outlook as meaning my pain wasn’t real.
In the end, though, he was right, and I realised my pessimism was only a plea to legitimise myself. As if I would win points for having to endure real shit.
Turned out, being happy was infectious. Regularly, my friends would come over so my parents could instil in them this power of positivity. It felt good to hear that the optimists could do anything. We celebrated imagination and possibility, which in turn infused us with creativity. We weren’t immune to struggle, of course. We had to deal with death, with uncertainty, with being human. But the difference, maybe, was that we were told change was always for the better, no matter how scary it felt at the time.
The trouble is, if you’re too optimistic in love, you’re made to feel almost insane. But optimism in love just means continuing to believe that things have gone wrong for a reason, to bring you closer to the one you’re supposed to be with. Yet the older we get, the more ridiculous we are made to feel for believing it’s still out there, despite our failures.
I’ve lived with a magician who, while kind, would get so wasted he’d crash his car (multiple times). I’ve said ‘I love you’
I’D RATHER RISK BEING ACCUSED OF HAVING TOO-HIGH EXPECTATIONS THAN SETTLING
to a guy who thought my eyes were blue (they’re not), and I’ve dated a guy who was leading a completely duplicitous life while he planned our future. He even told me he had to have sex with other women to give them closure. With his dick. That really sucked. I tried to wallow in that startling news but my brother and dad were right there next to me, trying to high-five me again, thrilled that I’d dodged yet another bullet.
Despite being casually ridiculed by my friends, who think they’re witnessing a train wreck, I’ve only been chastised for my optimism by someone I was dating once. I’d just moved to London to live with a guy I’d been friends with for 13 years. I think I knew we weren’t right – we were so different – but I thought how romantic it would be if I were wrong. I wanted Paula Abdul to be right: that opposites really do attract. So, there I was on our first weekend together, after years of courtship, but instead of frolicking around a new city on pub crawls, swinging around sign posts and making out in the rain between pints, he told me he was going golfing. Golfing.
My chin hit the floor so loudly he had no choice but to feign confusion and ask what else I had in mind. I told him about the rain and the dancing and the beer. He told me we weren’t in Singin’ In The Rain. But we weren’t 10 years into a marriage, I pleaded; just a week into living together. Nevertheless, he played golf and I went to the movies, and the relationship was over before the credits. The problem was, its demise dug its teeth in me because it made me question if my ideas of love were unrealistic. In the end, our relationship failed because he made me feel crazy and I made him feel boring. Being with each both other amplified and threatened who we were at our core: my optimism made him feel bad for being a realist, and that would never change because that was who we were. The rejection hurt, but I pulled myself up. Eventually, it was just another dodged bullet.
No matter how terribly so many of my romantic misadventures have turned out, I always jump in wholeheartedly at the next opportunity – as if I’ve never tasted that disappointment. Despite even writing a novel about a delusional girl trying to find love (which doesn’t bode well on first dates when asked what I do), I still hold on to the idea that true love exists for us all. I’d rather run the risk of being accused of having too-high expectations than of settling.
And it’s not just about love. It applies to the rest of my life. I attribute my overall happiness, the fact I’m lucky enough to work doing what I love, that I get to explore and meet wonderful people and have a wide and loyal friend circle, to my optimism. When I’m positive, I’m a better friend, better sister, daughter, woman, human. And when I wobble, which is often, I reset the switch. Sometimes, life is so challenging it can feel like a lie to reframe it into something positive, but you have to try. Pity parties – at length – are tiresome. Forcing a smile in the face of adversity isn’t faking it; it’s just making your mindset your reality... because eventually, your brain can’t even tell the difference between what you think and what’s real. So you might as well imagine the best. Optimists, are you with me? n Sophie Kipner’s book, ‘The Optimist’, is out now (£14.99, Unbound)